Nikka Whisky

The founder of Nikka and the father of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru came from a long line of sake brewers dating back to 1733. Destined to continue the legacy of making spirits, he trained as a chemist and was quickly recruited by the liquor company Settsu Shuzo. With a plan to make Japanese whisky, Settsu Shuzo sent Taketsuru to Scotland in 1918. He enrolled at the University of Glasgow, and became the first Japanese to study the art of making whisky. He took chemistry courses at the university and apprenticed at distilleries, learning first-hand from craftsmen and training as a blender.

During his apprenticeship, Taketsuru met Jessie Roberta Cowan, a Scotswoman, with whom he fell madly in love. They married a year later. Jessie changed her name to Rita, and moved with Taketsuru back to Japan, to become his eternal muse and support throughout his career.

Armed with Scotland’s distilling knowledge the love of his life, Taketsuru returned home to discover that the economy had taken a turn for the worse. The project he had undertaken with
Settsu Shuzo would never see the light of day, and he was out of a job in less than a year. Nevertheless, the determined Taketsuru powered on and found work with the company Kotobukiya. He used what he had learned in Scotland to create a Japanese style of whisky, even adopting the Scottish convention of spelling of whiskey without the “e.”

After a 10-year contract with Kotobukiya, Taketsuru set out on his own to scout the land for the site of his future distillery. He built Japan’s northernmost distillery, Yoichi, on the island of Hokkaido, and Nikka was born in 1934. In 1936, Taketsuru began distilling his own whisky at Nikka, and released the first bottle in 1940 despite the onset of war. Yoichi never ceased production, and to this day still crafts whisky in the traditional manner with pot stills heated by direct coal fire-a practice that is rare and no longer used in Scotland.

Taketsuru’s early successes prompted the development of a second distillery in 1969, this time built on the island of Honshu in the foothills of the Miyagi prefecture, two hours north of Tokyo. This area is known for its water and is famed for hot springs and waterfalls. The distillery is surrounded by mountains and sandwiched between two freshwater rivers, providing fantastic humidity and air quality conditions for its soft and mild malt.

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